As we head into most fantasy leagues' championship week, two of the NFL's standout IDPs are set to return after missing time, while the status of the league's top IDP, San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis, remains unclear.
James Harrison will be back on the field against a vulnerable St. Louis offense after missing Monday's game against San Francisco due to suspension. Harrison seems like an inherently angry guy, so it's probably safe to figure he'll be looking to inflict an unusual amount of cruelty on the Rams after he was forced to sit out last week's loss.
The other top IDP who's expected back this week is New England's Pat Chung, who missed six games with an unspecified foot issue. He has been in practice all week, so while he isn't guaranteed to be back on the field Saturday, it would nonetheless be surprising if he sits.
Willis' situation is less clear than those of Harrison and Chung, however. He made a limited appearance in practice Thursday after missing two games with his hamstring issue, but he's looking no better than a game-time decision for Saturday's game against the Seahawks. Even if Willis does suit up, he figures to be limited both in terms of effectiveness and snap count. Larry Grant has done a good job in Willis' place, so he'll probably remain on the field in some capacity until Willis shows he's close to full speed.
Beyond those three, the biggest injury news coming out of last week is probably the ended seasons of New England defensive end Andre Carter (torn quadriceps) and Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib (hamstring).
The 2010 fourth-round pick isn't a household name, but the Georgia product needs to be mentioned as one of the league's best interior linemen if he keeps playing like he has to this point in '11. He's one of the main ingredients in a Cincinnati run defense that is tied for fifth-best in the league with an average of 3.7 yards allowed per carry, and he's making a big impact as a disruptor in the backfield, too. With 1.5 sacks over the last two weeks, Atkins is up to eight through 14 games, as well as 13 tackles for loss. His tackle total of 41 (24 solo) might limit his utility in some formats, but in leagues that mandate defensive tackle starters, Atkins presents significant value.
Campbell isn't really a headline-grabber -- few 3-4 ends are -- but he has established himself as a standout DL2 in '11. He was merely a decent one last year, finishing with 60 tackles (46 solo) and six sacks in 15 games, but he has already exceeded those totals in 14 games this season. He has 64 tackles (48 solo) and seven sacks already, as well as eight passes defensed. He has a good chance to pile up more tackles against a run-heavy Cincinnati offense this week.
Senn had been only decent as an IDP in his four starts prior to last week, totaling 31 total tackles (14 solo) and a forced fumble, but he went nuts against Houston on Sunday. He finished that game with 14 tackles (12 solo), an interception and a forced fumble. It's almost definitely a fluky box score and Senn is unlikely to post similar numbers in a single game anytime soon, but placed alongside his other four games of respectable production, it appears safe to consider Senn a viable IDP option as long as he's starting.
Grimes has been out since Nov. 27, when he suffered a knee injury against the Vikings, but he's expected to make his return this week against the Saints. Grimes' IDP value might be a bit limited in traditional scoring systems, but those that tally passes defensed give Grimes a big boost. His tackle total of 87 (76 solo) in '10 was solid for Grimes, but it was his 23 passes defensed that made him stand out. Although the injury probably had something to do with it, Grimes' tackle numbers are down slightly in '11 -- he has just 42 (32 solo) in 11 games - but he still has 12 passes defensed. He figures to get a good amount of work Monday against New Orleans' pass-happy offense.
If you need help at defensive back in a deep league, Harris could be a worthwhile gamble this week. He had only one tackle last week due to suffering a concussion against Oakland, but he appears likely to play this week and, as long as Louis Delmas (knee) is out, a starting role awaits. He showed a decent ability to pile up tackles in the two games prior to last week, totaling 14 tackles (12 solo) while forcing a fumble in games against New Orleans and Minnesota.
Ward's season has been basically wrecked by the foot injury he suffered Nov. 6, as he missed the next six games and was placed on IR on Thursday. It's a bit concerning, as he was given a 4-6 week prognosis when the injury initially occurred. While there isn't necessarily any indication that the injury might be a problem in 2012, Ward's numbers were disappointing even before the injury, as he had just 39 tackles (28 solo) in eight games after finishing his '10 rookie season with 123 stops (95 solo). Expect Ward to be a triple-digit tackle threat if he's healthy next year, but it shouldn't surprise if his rookie-year tackle total turns out to be a career high.
Rolle does a lot of talking, but he doesn't have much to show as far as the stat sheet goes, not to mention his team's ranking as a pass defense. His 81 tackles (70 solo) through 14 games make him a decent option in deep leagues, but with just two interceptions and seven passes defensed since arriving in New York last year, Rolle appears to be a non-factor as big plays go. Considering his team is allowing an average of 7.8 yards per pass this year, it's probably safe to conclude that Rolle's lack of numbers isn't due to a lack of targets from opposing quarterbacks.
Dockett is in the midst of what is statistically the worst season he has had since '05, when he finished with 29 tackles (19 solo) and a half sack. He's doing significantly better than that in '11, but his numbers are still a disappointment. He has 39 tackles (25 solo) and 2.5 sacks in 14 games, leaving him on pace for 45 tackles (29 solo) and three sacks. With his numbers in decline since his 51-tackle, seven-sack season in '09, there's not much reason to expect Dockett to be anything more than a marginal DL2, if that.
Umenyiora (ankle) is doubtful to play Week 16, meaning his fantasy season is over for the majority of his owners. It's not terribly unexpected -- Umenyiora was given a 2-to-4 week prognosis for his ankle sprain when he suffered it Nov. 28 -- but it's still a bit disappointing that he landed firmly on the worst-case end of that scenario. He's not a guarantee to play in Week 17, moreover, so he might end up missing five games with the injury.
After Delmas' '09 rookie season, many thought that one of the league's top new IDPs had arrived. Despite missing a game, he finished that year with 94 tackles (65 solo) while adding two interceptions, one safety and one touchdown. Delmas' numbers fell significantly from that point, however. He has yet to intercept another pass in the 26 games since, and he has just 135 tackles (98 solo) in that span. That's an average of roughly 5.2 stops (3.8 solo) per game after averaging 6.3 tackles (4.3 solo) as a rookie.